Chickenlady!

I am admitting to a guilty secret. I am obsessed with chickens! It used to be the real thing when I had more time and didn’t have foxes living at the bottom of my garden. Now I no longer keep chickens, or rather I do – my house is full of them and I even have them in my office at work. However, none of them has a pulse.

dresser
I have a dresser full of them in the lounge, two chicken clocks, chicken garden ornaments, chicken mugs and biscuit tins, chicken plates…you get the idea. I don’t know what it is about them exactly. I think they connect with my idea of a more simple life – growing my own food with a few hens in the garden.

My work chickens. They have been kidnapped and held to ransom but made it back to me!

My work chickens. They have been kidnapped and held to ransom but made it back to me!

imageI will go back to keeping chickens, but in the meantime I will make do with my ornamental ones.

I have had a productive morning, cleaning and organising the house and sorting out some things for DD1 to sell at her boot sale tomorrow. Let’s hope the weather holds so that she gets lots of customers.

The garden is calling though. We were given lots of free wildflower seeds at the Chelsea Flower Show, so I want to clear the wild area – which is just a bit too wild – and make it into a large bed of fabulous wildflowers for the summer. I also have lots of veg to pot on and plant. Mr S keeps turning up with more plants that people have given him!

Shopping around

Lots of money saving going on at Shoestring Cottage!

So, I sorted out the energy supplier a couple of days ago and today I decided to look for a good deal on my house insurance. Honestly – never accept the quote you get from your current insurers. They appear to think that once they have pulled you in with a good deal the first year they can hike the price up by 30% and you won’t notice. Well this savvy shopper did notice!

I had a look at a couple of comparison sites and found buildings and contents with accidental damage cover for less than half what I had been quoted. (As an aside, having worked in insurance claims, I would always get accidental damage cover. It seems to be the most common type of claim yet many folk don’t bother with it.) That’s a heck of a saving!

imageI also put in a bid on a small roman blind for the downstairs hall and won it for 1p! Ok, the postage was steep at £8 but it is a nice quality John Lewis one so I decided it was worth a bid of a few pounds. I didn’t think I would get it that cheaply.

I was very happy with this. Not so happy with last night’s dinner. I picked up two herrings  reduced to half price in Asda recently and decided to eat them. I have only tasted them pickled and I had never cooked them. I was alarmed to find they weren’t boned, but got my trusty Delia book out and followed the instructions, then baked them very simply in a bit of butter and some herbs. I served them with some leeks, courgettes and mushrooms stewed in a little butter and some mini roasties. Thank goodness for the veg as the herrings were still full of bones and not the tastiest fish I have tried. Still, they were full of lots of healthy omega 3s!

 

Getting a new energy supplier

I managed NOT to save money on my energy bill today and I really don’t mind!! I was scouring the energy comparison websites for a decent looking deal with a company with good reviews on their customer service all lunch time and I came up with a small company called Green Star Energy. So. I have switched on the basis that they cannot be more useless than First Utility.

FU, as I fittingly call them, have still not sorted out my on going complaint that is with the energy ombudsman. I was going to switch when it is resolved but I just don’t trust them to record the meter readings I give them accurately. I currently have no idea of how much I actually should be paying. I probably owe them money but I can’t get a figure out of them. I hope it won’t interfere with my switch – we shall see!

I got home to find that DD3 had made a spaghetti bolognese and emptied the dishwasher. What a love! She is on half term but revising for her GCSEs so I don’t like to overload her with chores.

Plenty to go round!

Plenty to go round!

image

We had an entertaining but tiring day entertaining family yesterday so I need a quiet night. The huge pasta bakes and chilli went down a treat and amazingly nearly all
got eaten. They all had lunch and pud then went back for seconds a few hours later!

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Strange weather today – very heavy rain punctuated by strong sunshine. Still, we got to see this:

imageI have been doing a deep clean today. All of the decorating and gardening and general busy-ness hasn’t left much time for cleaning so the place was a bit grubby. I still have a bit to do in the morning, but it is looking so much nicer it is worth the effort.

making meatloafMeatloaf turned out to be a very easy dinner as it just involved throwing all of the ingredients in a bowl, mixing them together and putting them in the oven in a loaf tin. It was tasty too with some creamy mashed spuds and broccoli. I would put more herbs and spices in if I made it again. I actually doubled up and made two, one for the freezer. The recipe suggests it feeds 6, but I would say only if you have a very small appetite. It made plenty for 4 however.

meatloaf

It is here if you want to try it:

 http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/6772/mum-s-meatloaf.aspx?o_is=Hub_TopRecipe_1

 

Dinner for 12

I love a family gathering. We have all of Mr Shoestring’s lot coming over on bank holiday Monday so we are hoping for good weather. So how to entertain without breaking the bank?

imageI have decided to keep it simple but plentiful. I am going to make a vatful of chilli and rice, macaroni cheese with leeks and bacon, a big green salad and some bread. Someone is bringing a lemon cheesecake and I will also do a big bread pudding and custard. I will get the wine and soft drinks from Aldi tonight and hopefully they will bring whatever they want to drink too. Not that glamorous but tasty and filling!

It’s a shame the hall isn’t quite finished. I am planning to order the carpet next week though so we are getting there.

What are your cheap recipes for entertaining?

Live from the Chelsea Flower Show!

 

Cheap plant display using an old pallet

Cheap plant display using an old pallet

imageWow, Chelsea! There is so much to see it’s hard to know where to go first. You could spend a fortune making your garden look wonderful, but the gardens and displays I have liked the most cost the least. I like natural cottage garden style planting with lots of wild flower areas. I am taking inspiration from the amazing creativity here but all I have spent is £1.50 on a packet of seeds.

A greenhouse made from plastic bottles - ingenious!

A greenhouse made from plastic bottles – ingenious!

It is not impossible to make a lovely garden by growing as much as possible from seed, stealing plants and cuttings from friends and picking up the odd bargain from boot sales and the reduced section of the garden centre. Mr S even rescued a large sedum from a skip. It looks great in the garden.

The gold medal winning Laurent-Perrier garden

The gold medal winning Laurent-Perrier garden

Mr S's favourite Renaissance garden

Mr S’s favourite Renaissance garden

Coming to the Chelsea Flower Show is an expensive treat but it has been great and we kept our costs down by driving in and bringing our own food and flask. If you can scrape the cash together it is definitely worth a visit. See www.rhs.org.uk for details of all of their flower shows.

 

Budget Dinners Week

Feeling the need for inspiration for budget dinners that are quick and easy to do after work, I have been scouring the internet. A site that I think is pretty impressive for this is allrecipes.co.uk.

Looking promising so far:

Crispy rosemary chicken and chips

Crispy rosemary chicken (made with chicken thighs)
Meatloaf (made with half sausage meat and half beef mince – I will use the cheapie pork sausages from Aldi and remove the skins)
Cheesy cottage pie
Slow cooker butter chicken (made with chicken thighs)
Slow cooker veggie chilli

Slow cooker veggie chilli

I don’t have time for fussy stuff and these all look delicious without being time consuming and fiddly. They are also frugal, nutritious and the sort of food my family will happily eat.

What sites can you recommend? Which recipes do you come back to time and time again?

Grow your Own

Having been cooped up indoors doing a bit more decorating on Saturday, I was determined to see some sun yesterday. DD3 was stuck doing revision all day as she is in the midst of  her GCSEs, so we left her in peace and went to work in the garden.

imageI get so excited at this time of year watching the veg patch coming together and knowing we will soon be eating the fruits of our labours. Delicious home grown organic food for the cost of a packet of seeds or, even better, free, donated by friends and neighbours.

imageMr S made two wigwams next to the runner bean frame for our French beans and hacked back a lot of overgrown stuff. I was on weeding duty – I actually don’t mind this on a sunny day. It’s strangely therapeutic. I also got my cosmos in at the front of the house and I am hoping for a lovely summer display this year.

imageAs a major treat and to celebrate Mr S’s birthday we are going to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time on Wednesday. I love flower shows and I am very excited about going, even though the weather is set to be wet. We have decided to drive as the trains are so expensive and will park up in a cheap shoppers car park and get on the underground. I will be posting lots of pix!

Not Enough Hours in the Day!

I thought I would attempt a blog post this morning whilst the rest of the house is still asleep. It is quite nice in a way being up early on a sunny Sunday morning. The birds are singing loudly and the cats are bouncing about but other than that the world is quiet and there is no traffic.

I have struggled to find a spare few minutes to blog. Work was full on during Friday, I came home to do a large pile of ironing and I spent yesterday back in the hall painting. As for housework, who has the time? I have been doing a bit here and there, but only the bare essentials – the laundry and sorting food.

imageToday the garden beckons. There are some plants in the greenhouse that really need to go in the ground now but before that I need to do some weeding to prepare some space. Some of my neighbours trees need a good hack back too or they will starve my side of light. There are lots of seedlings that need potting on too. At least I enjoy this, especially on a beautiful day .

Before that I will get up and clean the bathroom and downstairs loo and wash the kitchen floor. I can’t let standards slip too low!

Is it just me? Does anyone else struggle to fit it all in?

 

Looking back

I think it is good to look back from time to time to see where you have come from and what you have achieved.

There have been points over the past few years when I couldn’t see how I would manage financially. I was newly single with a part time job but coping with the help of tax credits. I knew I would start to lose the credits as my children reached 18 so as soon as there was the opportunity for a full time job which was also a promotion I went for it. I prepared well for my interview and I succeeded in getting the job. I immediately lost most of my tax credits but that was fine –  I didn’t want to be dependant on them if I could avoid it.

It has been difficult adapting as I have slowly lost maintenance, child benefit and the remaining child tax credits for my two oldest daughters. I have done it by working overtime when I could, teaching yoga classes and taking in foreign students. How people manage when they don’t have these options or are unemployed I can only imagine. It must be hell!

I have learned how to budget, how to get what I need for the least amount of money, how to say ‘no, I cannot afford that’, how to make the best of what I have got and to realise that there are lots of great things in life that cost no money.

FailureI moved into my own house after a period in rented accommodation with the massive help and support of my partner, Mr Shoestring. Slowly we have transformed the house and garden using very little money. It is a work in progress but we are getting there and it is very rewarding.

I have seen my oldest daughter finally get a job she enjoys and that is permanent, my second daughter do brilliantly in her A levels and go happily off to university, and my youngest strive to do her best in her GCSEs, which started this week. I know she will do well.

I started this blog too, which helps to keep me motivated and on-track, and looking back to see what has been achieved gives me the energy to take on the challenges to come.